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Interview with Anthrax/Armored Saint Vocalist John Bush

By David Lee Wilson, Contributor
Monday, March 4, 2002 @ 3:04 AM

John Bush & Co. Wrap Up The US

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It is the last night of the Judas Priest/Anthrax tour of North America and Anthrax vocalist John Bush is sitting backstage quietly on an overstuffed couch cradling a cup of hot tea. Soft lights glow above with sounds resembling Muzak filtering beneath the dressing room door and I am thinking that this is not even remotely the picture that my mind’s eye had drawn for me whilst anticipating meeting one of metal’s most hyperactive frontmen. Still, for all of its apparent serenity, this scene had the inescapable smell of something truly intense ready to jump off at any second. Time would justify intuition and my aching neck still pays the price days later, here is why.

As far as classic heavy metal tours go, it has been a pretty sad scene in recent years with only sporadic touring by the genre’s greats, and then most of that surrounding the ever limpening Ozz-Fest tours, but tonight -- tonight there was some real meat to metal again. On this night, metal legends from two distinct generations did rewind, recall and re-birth the scene that gave critics, parents and clergy righteous cause to worry that we were all heading straight to hell. As it happened about 8,000 of us only made it as far as Detroit but that is plenty close to be considered damned by most faiths and more than enough reason to gather when opportunities like this one tonight arise to collectively throw up the horns in worship metal.

Moshing their way to the stage under sparse lights and the theme to The Blues Brothers, Anthrax crashed headlong into a pile of their best tracks including “Among the Living,” “Antisocial,” “Got the Time,” and “Bring the Noise,” but it was the unreleased “Superhero” that really laid everything and everyone out.

“Superhero” is an absolute metal masterpiece that dwarves anything the band has done before. Its groove is nothing less than crippling, but still we flailed with every chord. It was powerful beyond words and a joyous indication of where Anthrax will head with their new record. If you can’t wait to hear it on record, and you probably should, there is a version of it floating around the Net but even the power of that tape doesn’t do the track justice, tonight, live, it was insane.

The rest of the Anthrax set was far too short, (fifty minutes total), but encapsulated some prime moments including Judas Priests’ Ripper Owens coming to center stage for a duet on “Caught in a Mosh.” Then there was Priest bassist Ian Hill looking on with a wry smile as John Bush tried to figure out why his mic wasn’t working. It was an end of tour prank, of course, compliments of Priest. Bush and Anthrax later returned the favor by hiring a mass of strippers to come on stage and “perform” in front of Priest, which was a damned fine, if unexpected, distraction for all. Anthrax was sure to reserve a few minutes to pay sincere and respectful tribute to the metal Gods by giving up a THRAX-ed version of the Priest classic, “Solar Winds,” which seemed to delight both Owens and Hill.

After such a set most groups would head for the showers then the hotel, but Anthrax hung at the side of the stage all night watching their heroes and posing for pictures on the Priest Harley Davidson until invited out to sing “United” with their benefactors. In all, an astounding night to be metal thrashing mad.

As previously alluded to I did get to sit with John Bush for a while pre-show to discuss the general Anthrax goings on, and in hindsight, I am glad that we did it before the set, I don’t think that either of us would have made it after the gig. It was a night where everything was given and everything was taken and that is the way metal is supposed to be. So, in addition to the near whiplash abuse of my vertebrae, I did manage to take the following bonus material away from the evenings experience and now pass it on to you.

KNAC.COM: Well, you made it through! This was quite nearly the tour that wasn’t, are you feeling good about it now?
JOHN BUSH That is right, and now it is the last date so we did it! (Laughs) Oh yeah, it was absolutely worth it. First from the standpoint that we are all huge Priest fans, all of us grew up on that, so to tour with them always seemed like it would be an awesome experience and it has been. They have been great guys and have treated us very well. It has all been great with a lot of great stories and we even had dinner with them again last night, a big, crazy drinkin’ night so that is why I am a little fatigued right now. (Laughs)

KNAC.COM: Well, we are all glad that it finally came off, this is an incredible package for us metal fans to see and hear.
JOHN: Yeah, and you know, obviously everybody’s life was affected after that dreadful day, so it was a drag when the tour was postponed, but compared to a lot of people’s plight and a lot of people’s misery after that day so as much as we were frustrated and disappointed with the canceling of the tour, it was small in comparison. We understood and we are just happy to be out here now. It actually gave us an opportunity to do some more recording, and though we haven’t finished the record yet, we are a lot closer now.

KNAC.COM: Not only do you have the new record, but didn’t you just tape a live date for release?
JOHN: (Laughing) Well, we were to tape a live date but we actually postponed that because, one of the things that happens when you are a support act on a tour is that sometimes, and this is nothing against Judas Priest --when you want to record a live album and you want to have the mobile unit there, you want to have a lot of time to set up and we came to the conclusion that we wouldn’t get that, and again, nothing against Priest, but we just needed to do it with a headline show. So we kind of put that on the back burner for now but we do have the intention to make that happen.

KNAC.COM: When you do get to do it, is it going to be a standard Anthrax set or are you looking to record things that may not have made it to a live record before, maybe even stuff that you have never sang before even?

JOHN: Yeah, well you know, it is going to be a collection of the whole band’s history, the whole anthology of the group so I mean, it just depends. We add songs in and we take songs out, especially when we headline but for right now we are really sticking to a set that we play when we are opening, for the most part anyway, but the goal of the live album will be to have material that I sang on in the studio and then also stuff that Joey Belladonna sang on with the little twist of having me sing on them, so it will be fun. It will be a great record, I am sure, and we still want to record in Chicago because we have a real kinship with that city, so we want to do it right. We didn’t want to do it where we were only putting in half the energy and getting even less results out of it because then no one wins.

"I think that [the Internet] is a super important tool and I love it but I also think that there is a certain personal thing that I want to keep about myself and not everybody needs to know about everything."
KNAC.COM: Alright, so that is on hold but the new Anthrax studio disc will be out sometime this year, right?
JOHN: That is the goal, I hope so anyway! (Laughs)

KNAC.COM: And then the live record?
JOHN: That will probably end up coming out afterwards, but the studio record -- we have every intention of getting that out this summer.

KNAC.COM: You have also had the re-release of the first two records you did with the band on Beyond Records?
JOHN: That is right.

KNAC.COM: So kids are coming a lot out of their pockets pretty good for Anthrax this year?
JOHN: Well, it is all worthwhile for them, we are giving them their monies worth.

KNAC.COM: Absolutely. Do you pay much attention to the feedback on your website?
JOHN: Of course. I mean, we want to hear what people think and have to say, and we listen and then go ahead and do what we want to do anyway. But it is true, you do want to hear what people say, but for the most part we are pretty in touch with what songs we want to do and where we play and what we like to give as a band. We know where our heads are at in this modern day of 2002 so we use the Internet to keep people updated, keep them informed but sometimes things get a little too informed.

KNAC.COM: How is that?
JOHN: There was an incident the other night and it is growing a little more than what I would prefer it to be, but, whatever.

KNAC.COM: (Laughing) This wasn’t a “relationship” thing was it?
JOHN: (Laughing) No, no. There was a little incident that happened the other night where I had a little fracas with one of the crowd members, and in retrospect, I made a mistake and wished that I wouldn’t have done it, to tell you the truth. Some guy was a dick and you know, I was not wanting to tolerate it at that moment, but you know, those things kind of grow and on the Internet they can kind of have a little too much life, I don’t know. I have a love/hate relationship sometimes with the Internet. I think that it is a super important tool and I love it but I also think that there is a certain personal thing that I want to keep about myself and not everybody needs to know about everything. I think that sometimes people dive a little bit too deep into it and it is like, come on, we are musicians, we sing, we play, we rock but we also have personal and private lives and sometimes those things are a little too revealed, so that is just my own feeling on it.

KNAC.COM: Yes, it is interesting how that works. I remember growing up and there was a lot more mystique in rock music and when you can find out everything at the touch of a button, it kind of fucks up the fantasy. (Laughs)
JOHN: Yeah, I agree with that, and that part of it I don’t like. I don’t want to know everything about bands, I want to have some mystique remain because sometimes when you get all of this information you realize that they are just people and that actually takes away a little bit from the aura of somebody. Just imagine back in the seventies, and I know that this is a modern time and I am all for embracing what is going on, and I am all into what is the growth of us just as people, but I think what happened back in the seventies you had go and see a band and, with the exception of maybe reading some periodical story about a band, that was the only source of information on a band and that was why people were so eager to go and see a band. Now with MTV and all the major media outlets and the Internet you have so much information, that I think that it takes away from people’s desire to see a band, and that is why you will see a band sell two or three million records but they are still playing clubs. There is just no desire to see bands like that, because you see them on MTV every day and there is little to really inquire about because you already have all the information. That is just my perspective, I could be wrong, but I do believe it to be true. We used to crack up that bands like Judas Priest and UFO would be selling only half a million records back in the eighties, but they would be selling out places like this (The Palace of Auburn Hills, capacity 18,000). That is because every person who bought the record would also go and buy the ticket to see them live and every one of them would buy a T-Shirt because they were just so into the group, but these days, I just don’t think that you have the dedication to bands as a whole. People love songs and they like just one or two songs from a band, and that is enough for them and they don’t feel the need to go and see them and of course there are exceptions, but that is pretty much how it is now.

KNAC.COM: Something else that has dramatically changed over the last few years, maybe it has reverted to the formula from before album rock in the seventies but radio stations will “Present” a show with a band, tonight, in fact, is a “Presents,” but you won’t hear much, if anything, from either you or Priest on the radio, and then if you do, it won’t be anything from a current disc.
JOHN: Is it WRIF that we are talking about?

KNAC.COM: Yes, but it is the same in every town, I am sure, and actually WRIF is probably not the best example because they did work this show pretty good. But in general radio has changed, and you can’t expect a whole lot of air any more just because you are coming to town.
JOHN: Well, the truth of the matter is that the promoter is just going to buy time on a given station because that is their potential ticket buyer. Obviously, things can sometimes go hand in hand and the band is on tour and the station may spin the record a little more because the band is coming into town, or spin it at all for that matter, who knows. But for Anthrax, I can’t really say anything because we don’t have a current record out, so it is hard for me to say anything like, “They are screwing us” or anything like that. I think that WRIF in particular has been somewhat supportive of this band for the last several years so, yeah, it would be great if they would play us more because we might have had even more people here for us, but what can you do? Thank God that Detroit is a great metal town and people will find out regardless and come out.

KNAC.COM: I have seen the set list from the recent shows, but given that this is the last night are you planning any change-ups at all?
JOHN: I don’t know exactly how many songs that we are playing, but I would say it is close to ten. Yeah, it is a fifty-minute set but still, it is a great set and it is just about one song per album and I think that Anthrax fans will be happy. It is a cross-section of songs, I guess, and then even one new song.

KNAC.COM: Yes, I had heard that you would be giving a little preview of the new material though I haven’t heard it yet. I am sure somebody has posted it on Napster or its equivalent already?
JOHN: Yeah, some guy from New Orleans has it on a website somewhere already! (Laughs)

KNAC.COM: Bastard! (Laughs)
JOHN: Well, whatever, you know. (Laughs) We just wanted to hear it and make sure that it was at least something of mediocre quality, but it was alright.

KNAC.COM: Was that something where he went to a show and recorded it live from the audience?
JOHN: I did an interview with him and then he recorded it, I don’t even know how he did it, maybe on a video camera, but I really don’t know. It was no biggie really.

KNAC.COM: The usual forecast of what this record will sound like, “Anthrax gets back to the basics,” and shit like that are being thrown about, but how do you hear this new material?
JOHN: I think that it is just a progression really. The best metaphor that I have for it, and it might sound silly, but the best thing to be is like a tree, and what I mean by that is you will have the main body, the trunk, of a tree which is based on and entrenched in what it is and the roots are the origin, but the tree is still growing and the branches are where the tree is growing. Branches grow and leaves grow and the whole tree continues to grow as it lives, and that is what a band should do. We don’t want to lose the meaning of what this band is about from back in the day, it is powerful, it is heavy, it is loud, it is explosive, energetic, everything that Anthrax has always been, but we also want to grow and become better song writers and write things that are challenging to us and not just repeating. We just want to be better musicians and writers and I think that shows on this record and I think that the last few records have shown that as well.

KNAC.COM: It is strangely appropriate that you would use the roots to branches metaphor tonight because I was just flipping through the liner notes of an older Anthrax album and noticed that I had recently spoken to three different people who had worked for the band, but were not band members, just in this last week It is like the six degrees of separation for Anthrax or something. (Laughs) Do you kind of feel like you are constantly meeting the same people as you tour year after year with Anthrax?
JOHN: Well, this band has been around for twenty years so there are a lot of people that it reaches with its six degrees, that is a proper way to see it too, so we do know a lot of the same people. Just yesterday these guys were laughing about a guy who drove for Priest on their very first tour and then he ended up doing something for Maiden when Anthrax opened for Maiden in 1990, so it is really cool because it does seem like one big, giant family sometimes. I think that part of it is really neat.

KNAC.COM: Are there points along the road where you plan to stop each chance you get? Like, “We have to get chili dogs at Pat’s in Tucson and breakfast at Shoney’s in Indianapolis…?”
JOHN: Well, last night, in fact, we all went out to White Castle and got like fifty White Castle burgers. We all went out to dinner with Priest last night with some of the crew and a couple of girlfriends and wives and it was really cool, and then when we got back to the hotel we proceeded to get lit, and at the end of the night it moved to a smaller room and Ripper and his brother and Frankie and Rob, our guitar player who is playing with us, all went to White Castle to get these burgers, and this is after we had dinner, so we are all paying the price for it today! (Laughs) We drank a lot and ate White Castle and both of those things…

KNAC.COM: There is no retention factor for that mix! (Laughs)
JOHN: Oh god! (Laughs) Oh yeah, man, it is like you don’t even have a stomach. They go right through you, so that is what we are going through today, but on the whole everything has really been a very cool experience and tonight should be a very cool ending.

KNAC.COM: Knowing Anthrax’s reputation, I am expecting that you probably have something special planned as a going away present to the guys in Priest . Can you give me a hint of what you have planned? I mean, this won’t come out until after the show anyway. (Laughs)
JOHN: Well, I will say this, and you have to keep it in this room?

JOHN: There is something that is going to happen. (Laughs)

KNAC.COM: Come on! (Laughs)
JOHN: Awe, just watch for it and you can add it to the story, but don’t say anything to anybody that it is coming. And then I don’t know if they have anything for us either, so make sure that you stay for the whole set.

"I always freak out when people ask me about my favorite bands or my five favorite records. I just can never do that, because it goes through different waves and sometimes you want to listen to something and at other times you want to listen to something else. So I don’t know."
KNAC.COM: Wouldn’t miss a minute! Alright, off topic a little bit here but I do want to ask you about something that you did a few years ago that I thought was really cool, the “Black Lodge Club.” What ever became of that?
JOHN: Well actually “Black Lodge” ended kind of quick, and then myself and another friend basically promoted another night at another club and that one was a lot more successful. It was a really cool and fun thing to do, and it was just that there was not a lot going on, and we thought, “Let’s do this to keep us in touch with some of the newer groups and we will have a place to go and get hammered every week,” which is what we did! (Laughs) We made a little money, and it was a fun thing to do, but my schedule started picking up and so did his and we just couldn’t do it anymore, but it was cool. Alien Ant Farm played our club one night, and they went on to do pretty well for themselves. It was fun, and it kept us in touch and you want to do that, especially the older that you get because the new groups are the future.

KNAC.COM: You give Alien Ant farm a break and they repay you by coving Michael Jackson and not Armored Saint or Anthrax? (Laughs)
JOHN: Well, you know! (Laughs) They were nice guys, though. I see you have that really old picture there. (Points to a Hit Parader advertisement for Armored Saint’s The March of the Saint record.)

KNAC.COM: Yeah, I have a really embarrassing story connected to this photograph that I wanted to tell, I will keep it short, though. (Laughs) Basically, I thought you guys looked so cool in this shot I dyed my dirty-blonde hair jet-black, eyebrows and all, thinking that I would look really cool, too, but I just looked absolutely goofy because I don’t have your complexion to accent the rest. I was so embarrassed afterward, to say nothing of how jealous! (Laughs) Sorry, I had to confess that for some reason! (Laughs) I ruined a perfectly good piece of leather trying to make one of those vests, too!
JOHN: Did you really? (Laughs)

KNAC.COM: Absolutely!
JOHN: That vest was in a movie called “The Beast Master.” Most of the people who were in the war scene were wearing that stuff, and most of the stuff that we were wearing was bought at a place called Western Costume which is a provider of stuff to most of the studios out there. The reason that we were looking like that was because we were in the desert for the whole day and just got so filthy. (Laughs) That is the real reason behind that.

KNAC.COM: You fought the good fight with that band for so long, but at some point you decided to step out of it. Was it mostly that your original guitar player died, or was it that you felt that you did what you could with the band at that time?
JOHN: Well, that was a lot of it, and it was a sad thing. It was hard to think of a future without him, quite frankly, but we did and we did pretty well.

KNAC.COM: Right, which is the “Revelation” disc from a few years ago. Did that go well enough for you to try it again when everyone involved can manage their schedules, perhaps?
JOHN: Well, I don’t know. The best thing about this situation is that Charlie and Scott will do their SOD thing and I did this one, and it isn’t like, “Oh, I have got to do this,” it was more like, “I am bored so let’s do something.” Joey and Gonzo and I have been friends since we were like eight years old, so the history of that friendship goes back even further than that band. So it was just like an opportunity for us to say, “Hey, lets fuck around” and then we actually wrote some songs that had us saying, “Wow, these are good!” so we knew we could do it and Metal Blade wanted to do it and it was just great. The most important part about all of that was that back in the old Armored Saint days, in the eighties, Dave (Pritchard) was primarily the main guy, but Joey (Vera) has become quite the leader type of human being and he totally took it all upon himself and did the bulk of the writing and business and all that and it is weird because Joey, in the eighties, was a passive, quiet guy and he is nothing like that anymore. He is not a boisterous idiot like I am (laughs) but I mean, he is just an awesome person and he did all of that. It was like, “Wow, so he is our new leader” -- that kind of thing, and it was very cool. We will see what happens with Armored Saint, but right now every desire and all of the energy are being put into Anthrax because it has been four years since we have made a record and if we don’t get on it real soon… We just have to. I mean, we want to, so I think that Armored Saint will always kind of be there if we want to do it but Joey is busy too because he has Fates Warning and is producing records, and he both played and produced the Engine record, and he has a bright future in doing that. I think that everyone sees it like that. There wasn’t any pressure, and it was just like, “It is all gravy, whatever happens, happens.” Back in the eighties, it was our lives, but no one is acting like it is now. That is why, in the eighties, it was so disheartening, never having “made it” in terms of making money and making a living. We always struggled and with the burden of that lifted, we could just have fun so it was a cool experience.

KNAC.COM: I know it is a bit unfair to ask you this an hour before you are going to play a show with Anthrax, but if you had to pick a record or a song that you feel that you really nailed perfectly, what would it be?
JOHN: In Armored Saint?

KNAC.COM: In either group.
JOHN: I don’t know. I don’t like to nail it down. I always freak out when people ask me about my favorite bands or my five favorite records. I just can never do that, because it goes through different waves and sometimes you want to listen to something and at other times you want to listen to something else. So I don’t know. I would have to say that with every record that I have made, I feel a certain closeness to certain tracks, especially when all has been said and done and you are able to reflect, you can go, “Yeah, those are the songs that I love,” but then again, there are also those songs where you go, “Why did we do that?” So, I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t name just one song. It would be a couple of songs on just about every album that I have done, it really would be. At the end of the day, and this is kind of funny, music is just something that you have to let go of because you make it and it is like a kid, you let it go. It has to grow and other people should be able to say how it touched them, and I find that the most interesting. When people say to me, “What is your favorite song?” I say, “No, what is your favorite song?” That is much more interesting to me than what my favorite song is. I guess that is just how I see it. It is something that you make and have to let go and you know, you have to do that from a business standpoint as well. Especially in the last couple of years of Anthrax because we had a lot of things going against us when records came out, “Volume 8” and “Stomp 442,” for instance. Your tendency is to look at it like, “Well, what did it sell?” and that is the last thing that you want to do as an artist, whether it is music or a movie that you made, a picture you have taken or a painting you have done, whatever. You have to let it go and let it affect people how it does, and not let it depend on what it sold. I can say this with some conviction, as long as one song touches one person, the mission is accomplished and I think that is the ultimate goal.

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